In the coming days, otherwise reasonable and intelligent people are going to set themselves up for failure. It’s our annual ritual of self-deception: establishing New Year’s resolutions.
We’ll decide that it’s time to, “go on the wagon.” We’ll talk about cutting down our use, lowering stress, getting to the gym, eating healthier and spending less time at work.
The desire for better health and higher quality of life are always strong. The willingness to pursue them is generally not. That’s why we placate ourselves with sweet sounding lies.
Our resolutions will be well intended but vague. They’ll lack specific objectives or measurements. The most important reason they’ll fail is simply:
We’ll pursue them alone. We won’t share our goals with people who believe in our capacity for growth.
Want to increase your chances of success? Write out what your plan is. It’ll take about 5 minutes and it’ll look something like this:
I need to lose 35 lbs. I’m going to go to the gym 3 times a week. I’m going to pack healthy lunches every day. I’m going to take the stairs at work. I’m going to stop eating sweets and I’m going to use the treadmill I bought last year for something other than hanging laundry.
Ok, now imagine assigning your plan to someone you care about.
Right. It looks different now. The plan above actually contains six goals undertaken simultaneously. The more driven among us might argue that it’s one goal with five accompanying objectives. It’s holistic in the sense that it incorporates changes in nutrition, exercise, organization, and life style. It’s still likely to fail.
Anyone in addiction recovery can tell you that undertaking significant life changes without accountability, support, and encouragement is just this side of masochistic.
Now write the plan you’d give a friend. Maybe it’s a much smaller number than 35? You’d want them to experience success and you’d reason that it’s best to achieve that incrementally. Maybe you’d suggest they break that 35 lbs down to 5 at a time?
Maybe you’d reality check them. Are they really going to shop and prepare and have lunch ready every morning? Maybe if they simply resolved to stop eating fast food, they’d be likely to lose weight?
Maybe you’d suggest that one exercise goal is sufficient? I bet you’d recommend doing it with a friend to improve the chances they’ll go. Maybe you’d ask if they enjoy the gym and suggest that maybe yoga is a better fit?
The problem with change is that it requires moving out of our comfort zones which leaves us feeling…uncomfortable and likely to fall back into unhealthy habits that bring us relief. Change is best achieved by choosing to share our vulnerabilities with others. Who do you allow to challenge you and meaningfully support you? Who gets to call you out when it seems you’re being less than honest with yourself? Who gets to bolster your hope and faith that you can become a better version of you?
We all want to be better. For far too many of us, our starting point is believing that we are not enough just as we are. If we are willing to treat ourselves as we do those we accept and love; our chances of success will rise exponentially.
If your goal is to drink less or to become free of drugs, I urge you to get input from an objective source. Connect with a counselor or recovery coach. Share your use and struggles openly and honestly with folks who have lived experience.
If your goal is simply to be happier in the New Year, consider how you treat you and use the Golden Rule in reverse. Get some new friends. Go out of your comfort zone and try something new. Just stop seeking a better life alone. The best that ever brought anyone was loneliness.